All of Britain's a stage this summer: Our pick of the best 2013 festivals

From fringe comedy to Cambridge Shakespeare, Ben Walsh looks at some of the finest options available this year

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The Independent Culture

"Without music life would be a mistake," Nietzsche once maintained. And, clearly, the übermensch theorist is spot on. However, there's more to the UK festival summer than indie-rock anthems and string quartets.

A lot more, in fact, from night-time balloon spectaculars (the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta) to watching the sharp-witted Sarah Millican discuss Jack Reacher novels with Lee Child (the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival) to journeying around Brighton on Peter Blake's "flamboyant and groovy" Art Bus (Brighton Fringe Festival). The winter has been arduous, but Britain is ready to emerge with an explosion of festivities.

"The anticipation of Nightglow is unbeatable as the arena gets darker," enthuses Annie Johansen event organiser of the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, which is expected to attract 500,000 visitors over four days and is renowned for Nightglow, which two rows of hot-air balloons, between 30-36 in total, float into the dark."Balloon burners are fired in time with the music to produce a choreographed light display, with a massive firework display to finish," Johansen explains.

It promises to be breathtaking, as does watching the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button tear up the track for the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or witnessing a foolhardy soul devour 10 sausages while drinking a pint of cider at the Great British Food Festival, or sampling art pieces (5 Down, 20 Across) from local artists, aged from just 2 years old to 92, at the Brighton Fringe Festival.

All tastes are catered over the summer, with cheese, arts and crafts, literature, CBeebies celebrities, pickles, comedy, fire-eating, folk-dancing, Shakespeare, living-history encampments, wine and more on the menu. Some festivals even attempt to cater to all, such as London's children's festival LolliBop. "It offers everything from live music, theatre, walk-about performance, sport, literacy, workshops, dance lessons, circus skills and cooking classes," says Jenny Kane, LolliBops's event manager.

If you didn't bag a Glastonbury ticket, you can always sample Hamlet on an idyllic Cambridge lawn instead. To paraphrase the Bard himself, all of Britain's a stage this summer.

Goodwood Festival of Speed

"Racing burns like a fever inside me," Steve McQueen once maintained and the Bullitt star would have loved this haven for motor-racing fans. F1 speed merchants Lewis Hamilton, Nico Rosberg, and Jenson Button will be in action , with McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes all confirming their presence. Goodwood (right), now in its 20th year, also attracts the likes of past greats such as Sir Jackie Stewart, Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell. Vroom vroom...

Where: Goodwood, Sussex (; 01243 755055)

When: 11-14 July

How much: 4-day entry £229; Friday £85; Saturday and Sunday £113.

Just So Festival

Set in Rode's Grade II-listed park and gardens, this festival of creativity is aimed at young people and their families. The event embraces literature (Melanie Williamson reads from her book Wolf's Magnificent Master Plan), puppet theatre (including the offbeat jazzy tale There's a Monster in My Pocket), workshops (including Bollywood dance) and installations.

Where: Rode Park, Cheshire (; 07714 082190)

When: 16-18 August

How much: Adult weekend with camping £95; child weekend with camping £40; adult day ticket £30; Child day ticket £15; under 3s free.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

"We fly balloons on a fuel called love," maintained indie-rockers Foals and you can embrace your passion for hot-air contraptions at Europe's largest annual balloon event. The Bristol fiesta features 150 balloons, and Nightglow (below), with 30-odd balloons, glowing in time to music is a spectacular firework finale.

Where: Ashton Court Estate, Bristol (

When: 8-11 August

How much: free

Great British Beer Festival

Fanatics gather to sample over 800 cask and bottled real ales, ciders and foreign beers from round the world. The boozy bonanza plays host not only to great beers (Blackberry Stout and Oakwell Senior are recommended), but also a range of activities including tutored tastings, traditional pub games and live music. Beers average £3.50 a pint.

Where: Olympia Exhibition Centre, London W14 (

When: 13-17 August

How much: tickets from £8

The Great British Food Festival at Capesthorne Hall

Definitely a place to arrive at seriously hungry. The men vs food challenges are notorious at this satisfying gathering. Last year challengers were asked to scoff down 10 sausages while drinking cider - not one for acid reflux sufferers. Other things to savour are cake-offs, live music, chef demos, a wide choice of hot foods, vintage and craft stalls.

Where: Capesthorne Hall, Siddington, Macclesfield (

When: 13 & 14 July, 10.30am to 5pm

How much: children under 12 free, adults £6 in advance

LolliBop Festival

LolliBop, now into its fourth year, is the UK's biggest festival for children under 10. "The big bash for little people", which has moved from Regent's Park to the Olympic Park this year, features favourite characters TV characters, a circus Big Top, hula hooping workshop, arts and crafts and live acts.

Where: Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London E20 (

When: 16-18 August

How much: early bird single ticket £20; family of four tickets £78

Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival

Don your deerstalker for this crime writing showcase. This year's highlights include Brenda Blethyn discussing Vera and comic Sarah Millican interviewing Lee Child. Plus appearances from Susan Hill, Ian Rankin and Ruth Rendell.

Where: Various venues, Harrogate (

When: 19-22 July

How much: Vary according to event

Brighton Fringe Festival

Brighton's open access festival embraces "any art form", including the Peter Blake Art Bus, a double-decker which contains "groovy" art on the inside and out from the godfather of British pop art, comedy from Luisa Omielan (What Would Beyonce Do?) and absurdist theatre from Livestock, The Life and Adventures of Billy the Kid. The four-week fiesta, which runs alongside the Brighton Festival, also features children's workshops, comedy from Stewart Lee, classical orchestras and "exploding jellies".

Where: Various venues, Brighton (; 01273 917272)

When: to 2 June

How much: ticket prices vary according to the event.

The Great British Cheese Festival

Last year 10,000 visitors followed their noses to Cardiff (below) for a festival that features over 600 cheeses and 200 beers and ciders in the various markets, bars and stalls. There are also masterclasses exploring different aspects, styles or regions of cheese, and demonstrations on how to make an award-winning cheese.

Where: Cardiff Castle, Wales (

When: 22 & 23 September

How much: adults £8.95 on the day; under 5s free.

Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

What a way to see theatre. This year, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymberline, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer's Night's Dream, Richard III and dark masterpiece Hamlet are performed in the idyllic gardens of Cambridge University's colleges. Productions are performed in full period costume.

Where: The college gardens of Cambridge University (

When: 8 July-24 August

How much: £15 (concessions £11)